BEACHTON -- A few miles outside Cairo, a rectangular memorial marker sits, still and quiet, behind Oak Grove Primitive Baptist Church.

You probably would not notice the two-year-old stone if you did not know where to look.

The marker bears a picture of a school that closed more than four decades ago and the names of students who attended it.

Liberty Senior High School closed in 1956 when its last students were sent to attend Washington Consolidated School in Cairo, according to a 1988 souvenir log commemorating the school's first high school reunion.

The log stated the school became accredited with its new name in 1945 -- four years after students started attending classes in the new building.

Before that, the educational facility was called Grady County Training School and sat near Oak Grove Baptist Church in 1939. It had been moved from its 1933 location near Evergreen Christian Church, according to the log.

The memorial, engraved with the date June 22, 2002, was placed by a group of grateful students. They set the memorial in honor of their former principal, Charles Copeland.

Copeland served the school when it was known as Grady County Training School in 1933 until it closed in 1956 under its new name Liberty Senior High School.

Copeland, a Cairo resident, said the school was known for its choir. He played a tape recorded in 1952 with a melodic version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and other popular songs he said the choir sang.

Copeland said about 200 students were attending Liberty High around the time the school consolidated with Washington. He remembers driving the school's first bus before the Grady County School System offered bus service to the school's students.

Thomas County commissioner Robert C. Holton Sr. attended the school in the 1950s. He started at age six and attended the school through the eighth grade, at which point he started attending school in Cairo under consolidation.

Holton said he had fond memories of what he called family values that were taught there and that he remembered celebrating holidays such as May Day, the Fourth of July and school closing time with the community.

He also said the school's memorial sits where he used to sing in the Glee Club and play in the band.

"It's just about sitting on the spot where I was my first year in grade school," he said of the marker.

Thelma Grant, of Cairo, is another student who attended the school during the time of consolidation with Washington.

She attended Liberty High School between 1949 and 1956, from fifth to 11th grades. She then transferred to Washington High School and graduated there.

Grant said she remembered Liberty High School as a wooden structure in 1949 with four rooms, an auditorium, an office and a storage room. By the time the school closed, Grant said the school had expanded to nine classrooms and there was a separate building for a cafeteria.

Like Holton, Grant emitted fondness for her alma mater and her former principal.

"Mr. Copeland was an inspiration to us," she said.



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